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Mr. Barron: My hon. Friend mentioned the fuel protest. What bothers me is that that consisted primarily of people protesting against the level of taxes on fuel. I thought that tax and spending were matters for the ballot box and the general election. If those people managed, as they nearly did, to shut the economy down for a time, could they not equally decide to do so because they thought, for example, that nobody with blue eyes should live in this country? Would we not then be moving towards a different type of democracy--or rather, a dictatorship, which is something that people in this country have fought against for many centuries, and given their lives in that fight?
Mr. Mackinlay: My hon. Friend did not listen to me sufficiently closely. Perhaps I was expressing myself inadequately. Of course, I hold no brief for those people and deprecate their actions. However, his words are almost exactly the same as those uttered by the Opposition on other disputes.
Mr. Mackinlay: I am posing a question and trying to demonstrate to the House that there is a difficult line that we should be cautious about crossing. I do not want to make any point but that; we should be extra vigilant because of the dangers of a slippery slope concerning our liberties.
I was interested in paragraph 85 of the annual report, the content of which features in other documents. The Committee identifies considerable work on combating organised crime, and there is common ground between it, the Government and other hon. Members on the need to combat smuggling, bootlegging and especially the terrible trade--which, I fear, will increase--in trying to smuggle human beings into the United Kingdom, which is surrounded by tragedy and wickedness.
On a minor point, I hope that the Home Secretary will keep an open mind when his colleagues in the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions conduct their inquiry into the future policing of our ports. I hope that he will consider that there is a powerful case for having a dedicated police force in our ports, as many other countries do. It should complement, not be used instead of, the immigration and nationality directorate of the Home Office, the secret branch in our ports and Customs and Excise.
Not having such a force is a flaw; there should be a dedicated force like the British Transport police in all our ports, and the cost should be borne by a small top-slicing of port fees. It would greatly assist the primary agencies that combat organised crime, illegal smuggling, bootlegging and so on. I invite my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary to look at the port of Tilbury, Dover harbour, Felixstowe and Teesside, where police are taking such action. Comparable forces do not exist in many other British ports; the ports that Canada polices are a particularly good model.
I have a constituency interest in our debate. My constituent Michael John Smith is serving 20 years in prison for breaching the Official Secrets Act. I hold no brief for him; I visited him once and he has never disguised his offences from me. He disclosed secrets, which the courts found were of extreme importance to the United Kingdom. Some of his trial was held in camera, and I believe that some evidence was not disclosed to the defence. I do not want to trespass on that today, other than to say that he was largely found guilty on the evidence of a defector, Victor Oschenko, who featured in "The Mitrokhin Archive" and is well known.
When the Home Secretary makes his wind-up speech, will he give us some assurance about how we treat the evidence of defectors, many of whom are brave people? I do not take that away from them, but if one is on the other side one does not look on them as brave. Indeed, when the defection is in the other direction, we do not look on people who defect from us as brave. Arguably, defectors have a vested interest in exaggerating the importance of the information that they can impart. Again, that is human nature. I am concerned that there are probably not sufficient guidelines, nor is there a sufficient review of the evidence and information volunteered by people who want to defect or have defected. I am nervous about how we handle that.
Finally, I shall refer to another constituency matter. On 31 October, I raised in Westminster Hall the case of my constituent John Redgrave, a senior Metropolitan police officer who was involved in Operation Nightshade. That operation had three elements--a planned cocaine shipment from Venezuela, money laundering and an illegal arms deal using Sierra Leone as a trans-shipment point. John Redgrave was the principal police officer investigating these criminal operations. He headed up a multi-disciplinary team, including the Houston branch of
A man from a Texan gang, Roger Crooks, who runs the Mama Yoko hotel in Freetown, Sierra Leone, had approached people in the United Kingdom about supplying weapons, including M16 assault rifles, grenade and rocket launchers, plastic explosives, mines and ammunition.
During the operation, there was considerable liaison between the Metropolitan police and their United States counterparts. Then things went terribly wrong. Despite the fact that Roger Crooks was at one stage expelled by the Government of Sierra Leone for arms trafficking--their official website says that it was for trying to smuggle arms to and from Northern Ireland--he has somehow been rehabilitated. Operation Nightshade was closed. My constituent was suspended; when he came up before a stipendiary magistrate, all charges against him were dismissed. He has been on suspension for three or four years without any reconciliation of his position.
I think that my constituent got in the way of a wider security operation. I do not know the detailed circumstances of Roger Crooks, the Mama Yoko hotel and the attempt to bring weapons from Sierra Leone to the United Kingdom. However, my constituent is in limbo. That is wholly unsatisfactory; no matter how difficult the circumstances, people should not be treated in this way. There has been no resolution of his case, unless it has happened in the past few days. If so, my right hon. Friend might know about it.
The few disciplinary matters outstanding have not been resolved, through no fault of my constituent but because of the inability either of people whose names and organisations I know not or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to deal with this case. I am sorry to have to raise it on the Floor of the House, but I have not imparted anything that was not disclosed in Westminster Hall. There is a bit of a hum about this and I hope that it will be looked into.
I am sorry to have delayed the House on a number of issues but I hope that I may have opened up one or two that were not directly featured in the report of the Committee chaired by the right hon. Member for Bridgwater. As I said earlier, although I have not known him intimately in the House, I have always respected him as a parliamentarian and held him in very high regard.
Mr. David Lidington (Aylesbury): This has been a good debate. Quite rightly, most of the contributions have come from members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. There have been three exceptions to that general rule. The right hon. Member for Swansea, East (Mr. Anderson) reminded the House that there remained an important role for departmental Select Committees in scrutinising the work of the security and intelligence agencies. The hon. Member for Thurrock (Mr. Mackinlay) and my hon. Friend the Member for New Forest, East (Dr. Lewis) seemed, between them, to be auditioning for the soon-to-be-vacant role of the awkward member of the Intelligence and Security Committee. Which of them will have done most to impress whoever is in a position to make such appointments, I will not risk guessing.
The hon. Member for Workington has shown all hon. Members, but especially those more junior in service than him, what can be achieved by way of persistence, awkwardness and a determination to insist on answers to questions, even when those answers are being resisted by a Government of whatever party happens to be in office.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater has brought to his chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee his experience of serving as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and as Secretary of State for Defence. In both offices, he learned a great deal about the work of the agencies that we are debating and about the real, pressing and permanent nature of the terrorist threats which those agencies devote a great deal of their time and energy to resisting.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire (Mr. Mates) summed up the work of the Committee by saying that he had worked happily but very well. The fact that that description can be applied is in large measure due to the skilful chairmanship of my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater. It is in large measure due to his leadership that the Committee has, from an untried beginning, earned itself within a few years a formidable reputation within the House and a reputation for persistence and trustworthiness among the senior members of the agencies whose work it scrutinises. The House has every right to be proud of and grateful for the work that both my right hon. Friend and the hon. Member for Workington have undertaken during their time on the Intelligence and Security Committee.
Tribute has also rightly been paid to the members of the various security and intelligence agencies. The security of our country and its citizens depends in no small part on their vigilance and professionalism, and we are all in their debt.
The debate has ranged widely over the contents of the reports from the Intelligence and Security Committee. I shall confine my remarks to three or four matters. I hope that the Home Secretary may be able to provide some answers to questions raised not only by me but by other hon. Members who have spoken this afternoon.
The first matter is recruitment and retention of staff. Getting the right calibre of officers is clearly essential if we are to have agencies of the quality and professionalism that we have come to expect. The hon. Member for Workington spoke encouragingly about what he had seen and learned of recruitment efforts in our universities. In paragraph 27 of its 1999-2000 report, the Committee reported that although the agencies were able to recruit staff for their mainstream work, they were experiencing difficulties in the recruitment of specialist staff such as IT and electronics specialists. The Security Service reported that it was experiencing problems retaining officers after they had served for about three or four years.
That is worrying, especially given what the Foreign Secretary said in his opening speech, and what my hon. Friend the Member for East Hampshire said later. They both referred to the way in which electronic communications are becoming ever more important in intelligence and counter-intelligence work. The Foreign Secretary referred to the exponential growth of e-mail traffic, and to the threats to this country's interests that could be posed by a computer-based attack on them. I hope that the Home Secretary, therefore, will be able to give the House some assurance that the difficulties identified in the Committee's early report are being addressed, and that the agencies are now managing to recruit and retain the specialist staff that they need.
Secondly, I want to refer to the agencies' expenditure programmes. The hon. Member for Workington commented trenchantly on the importance of the National Audit Office in supporting the Committee's work. I welcome the Foreign Secretary's comments about the new accommodation project at GCHQ, and the news of the appointment of Sir Edmund Burton as a non-executive director. However, I hope that the Government will take account of the strictures levelled by my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater at the quality of the financial management and accountability in the agencies.
Like other hon. Members who have spoken, I question the Government's reluctance to disclose to the Committee figures for individual agency budgets. The Committee notes in its report that the only criteria for non-disclosure would be the risk of compromising national security or prejudicing the continued discharge of the agencies' functions.
I accept that it is clear that there must come a point at which the detailed disclosure of finances would let in too much light on the operation capability of the service concerned. However, I hope that the Government will at least reflect on the comments made by members of the Intelligence and Security Committee of all parties, and consider whether it is safe to let in a little more light than previous Governments, including Conservative Governments, were willing to let in. I also hope very much that the Home Secretary and the Foreign Secretary will be able to persuade the Chief Secretary to the Treasury to reconsider his reluctance to give evidence in person to the Committee.
That leads me to the broader question of the accountability of the security and intelligence agencies. The balance is incredibly difficult to get right. In the end, I believe that Parliament must trust the Ministers appointed to take responsibility and be held accountable for work that must, by its very nature, remain secret. The key and overriding priorities must be to protect the integrity of secret intelligence work that is vital to the defence of this country and its interests, and to protect the lives and safety of those who serve in the field as agents on behalf of those services.
There has been quite a lot of discussion this afternoon of the tribunal system set up under the previous Conservative Government and continued by the present Administration. I welcome the way in which the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 has simplified the structure by creating a single investigatory tribunal and getting rid of the some of the duplication that would otherwise have complicated matters. However, the right hon. Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed (Mr. Beith) asked whether the tribunal had the capacity to process the
The debate has also covered the question of possible disclosure to the Committee of confidential annexes to the commissioners' reports to the Prime Minister. I understand the arguments advanced by members of the Committee that they need access to those annexes to judge whether the tribunals and the agencies have responded properly and in full to complaints that may have been justified. However, as I said in respect of finances, at the end of the day Parliament has no option but to trust the judgment of Ministers. None the less, I hope that Ministers will keep the issue of further disclosure under close review. As members of the Committee have said, the Committee has built up over the years a relationship of trust between its members, members of the agencies and--I hope--the Ministers to whom the agencies are accountable. The extent of disclosure is a matter that any sensible Government would review from time to time.
Certain matters are more directly relevant to the Home Secretary's sphere of responsibility as the Minister to whom the Security Service regularly reports. Organised crime and the role of the intelligence and security services in combating it are themes that have run though the debate and featured in speeches made by right hon. and hon. Members on both sides of the House. In his introduction to the 1999-2000 report, my right hon. Friend the Member for Bridgwater cited the opportunities given to international serious organised crime as
The Security Service website states that, in 1998-99, about 7 per cent. of Security Service expenditure went on operations against what was described as "serious crime". The definition of that excludes terrorism, which forms a separate heading. Is the Home Secretary able to tell the House whether that percentage has increased since those figures were reported, and if so, by how much; and what plans there are to enlarge further the resources and effort directed against organised crime by the Security Service and other agencies? That too is an issue on which there was consensus among hon. Members on both sides. The Government have said that they look to increasing the efforts made against organised crime by the agencies. I hope that the Home Secretary can give us a little more detail.
The hon. Member for Doncaster, Central pointed out the need to secure better co-ordination between the work of different agencies that are engaged in combating organised crime. The Committee's report refers to evidence that it took from Customs and Excise and the
The Home Secretary could answer one question. The Committee recommended in its earlier report that both NCIS and Customs should be given a place among the members of the Joint Intelligence Committee. I was not clear from looking at the Government's response to the report whether that has happened. It would be helpful to have an answer if possible.
One aspect of organised crime that has drawn the attention of both the Intelligence and Security Committee and the Home Affairs Committee in the past 12 months has been the organised trafficking in human beings. The Home Secretary and I have been known to disagree on immigration and asylum policy, but there is agreement across the Chamber about the need for resolute action to deal with the ruthless trafficking in human beings, the consequences of which we saw in the most stark and tragic form in the deaths of 58 young Chinese men and women in the back of a truck in Dover last year.
This debate has been characterised by a seriousness of purpose and sense of agreement on the basics on both sides of the House. I started by paying tribute to the retiring members of the Intelligence and Security Committee. I conclude by paying tribute to the men and women who work in our security and intelligence services. When I have spoken to former Ministers from Conservative and Labour Governments who have had responsibility for dealing with the security and intelligence agencies, they have all said how impressed they have been by the courage, patriotism, professionalism and sheer commitment and hard work of those men and women, who go about their duties in secret on behalf of us all. Those of us who are outside the circle of secrecy have to rely on the occasional glimpse through the veil. Perhaps the best tribute that we can pay is simply to place on the record our acknowledgement that the constituents of every hon. Member can go about their lives today more peacefully and securely because of the work that members of those agencies do.